PETER RUSSELL puts on his tin hat


Our very good friend Kate has now retired from her job, which was with a small NGO that did irreparable good by promoting the rights of workers (especially women workers) in emergent nations. She and her family have lived in Scotland since the 1970s. These are her views on Scotland’s future, based on that experience.

I’ve worked or lived in upwards of 25 newly independent countries. As we approach the vote next year I’ve been reflecting. 

I’ve been caught up in the euphoria – ‘the rainbow nation’ comes to mind. All are welcome to be citizens of – Kenya, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Uganda, Zimbabwe . I could list many more. The new country will be everything everyone hoped for.

Then comes the hard part, negotiating the terms of the settlement. Global powers hold all the cards and extract a very, very high price. What you want is not what you get. NATO membership screwed Central Europe with disastrous consequences for their social welfare budgets. IMF loan conditions cut welfare, imposed privatization and market forces which massively disadvantaged the poor in Africa, Hungary and elsewhere. Europe has been squeezing the Greeks and installed an unelected president in Italy. Nearer to home, the credit rating agencies appeared to be running Britain for a while. 

So what are Scotland’s tactics for the crucial negotiations? I’ve heard the ‘wish list’ but nothing about how we will prevent powerful others dictating the settlement. 

When the going gets tough… and it will … then the enemy without easily translates to an enemy within. Individual Russians, European immigrants, white farmers, Serbs or Asian traders come to signify all that is wrecking the dream.

Friends tell me that this won’t happen because Scots are different… this special pleading worries me even more. No nation is composed of ‘special people’. I’m not saying don’t go for independence – only do it in full knowledge and preparedness for the consequences and accept the inevitable 10 years or more of frustration and austerity which lie ahead of any new, small nation.

After 37 years.. I’ll not be here to suffer it… or take the blame for what’s gone wrong …I’m British and will decamp over the border to enjoy my twilight years”

These wise and well-chosen words were given extra urgency by the BBC Question Time broadcast on 28th November 2013 from Falkirk. It was marked by some extraordinary claims from DFM Nicola Sturgeon regarding the newly published White Paper “Scotland’s Future” (coincidentally an anagram of “Fraudulent Costs”) and some even more extraordinary histrionics from the “non-political” “celebrity”, Eddi Reader.

But what was most noteworthy was the attitude of those members of audience who spoke about immigration and the EU. Previous to the programme, one contributor on Twitter had predicted:

Mhairi Hunter ‏@MhairiHunter1There probably will be a lot of #indyref argy bargy on #bbcqt2nite but tell you what we won’t get. Racism, xenophobia…”

In fact that is exactly what we got. One audience member claimed all the houses on his local council list were reserved for immigrants; another described Gretna and the Scottish Borders as the “first line of defence against foreigners”; and a third demanded a Scottish in-out referendum on EU membership, like UKIP or the Tory right. All of this suggested that central Scotland is not much different to middle England.

This is what some of us have believed all along, but is apparently news to many who may not know their neighbours as well as they though they did, and should act as a timely reminder that some Scots can be as xenophobic as some English people. And it is of course reminiscent of the orthodox assumption in the 1980s that Scotland was “different”, and that there was no racism in Scotland.

This of course turned out to be totally wrong, and we cannot ignore the fact that Scottish exceptionalism in xenophobia and racism is a myth. Kate’s fears – and those of many more of us – are likely to turn out to be well-founded, and a post-independence Scotland could be a very uncomfortable place to be English when the fanciful prospectus of “Scotland’s Future” fails and the finger of blame is pointed. Those who seek independence should acknowledge this danger, and weigh the risk in making their decision; to refuse to do so is to do a disservice to the future of Scotland and to that of our fellow citizens.

Peter Russell is a retired speechwriter and researcher at Glasgow City Council. This post was originally published on his blog, Planet Pedro! Follow Peter on Twitter at @Planet_Pedro.

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4 thoughts on “Xenophobia and Independence

  1. A strange twist of logic?
    It suggests “I will be a citizen of the world OR British.”

    I would rather be a citizen of the world OR live in a country that could come as close to a good example as possible. A country which is fairer / without weapons of mass destruction / free education / etc – An independent SCOTLAND.

    True socialism is NOT being British! It is being a socialist and helping to turn those deeply held values into action.

  2. But it’s not just the newly formed independent countries who start xenophobic finger-pointing when times are hard. How old is Greece – the cradle of Western civilisation and culture, the birthplace of the concept of democracy ? Yes , ancient indeed, yet your friend Kate may have noted on her travels that Golden Dawn one of the most thuggish, racist and xenophobic political parties worldwide gained disturbing levels of popular support in that country until the recent arrests of its leadership. In confronting xenophobia on a national scale the only way to uphold values of tolerance and race equality is through the rule of law and fit for purpose mechanisms to monitor and enforce those laws. So IMO Kate’s looking at the phenomenon the wrong way round when she attributes independence as a key variable in the rise of xenophobia. Rather, its a lack of efficacy in the legal and criminal justice system reflecting the underlying relationship between law and a society. Yes, some newly independent countries exhibit this institutional xenophobia but so do some mature governance systems. For example, the plight and persecution of the Roma and other minorities in Eastern Europe can be traced back long before the emergence of the new nation states.

  3. Is this a joke? Are you seriously suggesting that A) because there may be some people in Scotland who have views that might be viewed as racist! that B) Scotland should not vote for independence?

    That’s supposed to be taken seriously? I’m really struggling here. This from someone who is a seasoned political speechwriter? You think an argument as ridiculously empty as this is going to hold any sort of sway with even one person?

    Let’s suspend reality then for a minute and try and act like this is a serious point. On the basis of what you just said, basically every country in the world should relinquish its independence because within every country in the world there is to some extent xenophobic elements?

    Ok that minute is over. The stench of total desperation is clogging up my nostrils. Incidentally, jocko, what do you make of the way Scottish people are treated by some English people down south? How about the verse in the national anthem of Britain that talks of crushing the scots like a torrent? Quiet on all that, are we? Ah ok, it’s just Scottish racism that matters, I see.

    But how come if we are so racist that the extreme right parties don’t seem to have any political representatives or representation up here, whereS down south they are actually making major inroads and presenting a huge threat to once considered safe labour seats? Funny that. Yet we have a racist problem…. Oh well.

  4. The point of my blog was to use the insights gained by personal and professional experience greater than mine to illustrate one of the risks which could be faced by an independent Scotland. Unfortunately, none of the above comments justifies any confidence that Scottish exceptionalism will make it different.

    A few more details:

    George Anders: anyone who talks about ‘true socialism’ obviously has their own agenda based on a notion of ideological purity. I am on the side of social democratic solutions which work, even if they might be compromised and messy. To claim that the very fact of not being British is ‘true socialism’ is of course absurd.

    By the way, 80% of voters in 2010 General Election voted for pro-Trident parties, so there is no mandate for its removal.

    franwhi: Greece as it now exists is a very new country: in the past 15 years it has been transformed from a Hellenic ethnic monoculture into a multicultural population by large numbers of people arriving both legally and illegally from elsewhere in the Balkans and the Middle East and North Africa. It has coped tremendously well with these stresses (despite all too little assistance from the EU). However, Golden Dawn are criminal fascists who have attempted to capitalise on these strains. They are failing to do so: the biggest gainers are the leftist Syriza.

    I have also recently heard a leftwing commentator in Greece ascribe the violence endemic in its political culture to its relationship to a teaching of national history based on myths of battles, wars and martyrdom. Bannockburn? Flower of Scotland?

    No-one would argue against a sound legal framework to deal with these issues: and the UK has a relatively effective and enlightened approach to racism. Nonetheless, racism and xenophobia continue to exist, including in Scotland (which has a devolved equality body) as Falkirk showed. As UKIP took more votes than the Scottish Green Party in 2010, there is no room for complacency.

    Gortchomhor: Kate specifically says she is not telling people how to vote and nor am I – but I do ask people to weigh the risk in making their decision.

    Any discrimination against Scots in England is of course deplorable, but the number of Scots in prominent positions in the UK suggests that they do not do so badly.

    By the way, few people outside Scottish nationalism know the verse in question of the National Anthem; indeed very few know any of it beyond the first few lines. And it only refers to “rebellious” Scots anyway, not those who fought against the re-imposition of the corrupt absolutist Stuart dynasty.

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